Caps collapse under Game 7 pressure

So much for all of the hype about Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, Penguins vs. Capitals, Game 7. This second-round series ended with a thud, thanks to a perfect performance by Sid the Kid’s Penguins.

The two main attractions of the NHL post-season – Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby and Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin – shake hands following the Penguins' 6-2 win in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday in Washington.

Penguins 6 Capitals 2

WASHINGTON — So much for all of the hype about Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, Penguins vs. Capitals, Game 7. This second-round series ended with a thud, thanks to a perfect performance by Sid the Kid’s Penguins.

Crosby scored twice to take his NHL-leading playoff goal total to 12, and Pittsburgh chased rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov early in the second period while shutting down Ovechkin most of the night in a 6-2 victory over Washington on Wednesday.

“Any player knows: When there are expectations, you want to respond,” Crosby said after his first Game 7 at any level. “We had two great teams that battled for seven games, and it’s good to be on this side.”

Everyone chipped in for the Penguins, from the stars to the second thoughts, from regular-season scoring leader Evgeni Malkin’s two assists, to fourth-line forward Craig Adam’s first goal in 42 career postseason games.

Second-year defenceman Kris Letang, 38-year-old Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal scored, too. Marc-Andre Fleury made 19 saves and didn’t allow a goal until his team led 5-0.

Pittsburgh’s 4-3 series victory after trailing 2-0 moves it closer to a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup finals, something the team last did in 1991 and 1992.

The Penguins will face Boston or Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals. They play their second-round Game 7 at Boston on Thursday night.

For the Capitals, this setback extends some dispiriting trends.

They’re 2-6 in Game 7s, including 0-3 against the Penguins. And they have lost seven of eight playoff series against Pittsburgh — including four times after Washington held a two-game lead.

The NHL boasted that it’s the first time since 2001 three conference semifinals went the distance, and the league, its TV partners and fans had to be excited about the potential drama on tap Wednesday.

In addition to all of the big names on the ice, there was this: Five of the series’ first six games were decided by one goal — and three went to overtime.

“I can’t describe the ups and downs of the series,” Crosby said.

Nothing but ups for his team on this night, in part because Pittsburgh scored goals eight seconds apart in the first period. And just kept on scoring.

Crosby put the visitors ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal about 7 1/2 minutes in from his favourite spot on the ice: the net’s doorstep.

He added something of a finishing touch with another power-play goal in the third period, stealing the puck from his rival, Ovechkin, before beating Varlamov’s replacement, Jose Theodore.

Pittsburgh was on the man-advantage there because Brooks Laich was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty after sending Crosby crumbling to the ice. Clearly, though, Crosby was well enough to make it 6-1.

Much earlier in the evening, back when the game was scoreless, a pass came his way from Sergei Gonchar.

Crosby kicked the puck to himself with his right skate and then flipped it home with his stick. Gonchar was back in his usual role of running the point for Pittsburgh after missing most of Game 4 and all of Games 5 and 6 with a knee injury after a hit by Ovechkin.

Any Penguins fans celebrating Crosby’s goal missed the second score. Right off the ensuing faceoff, the Capitals didn’t appear to be paying much attention, and Pittsburgh wound up with an odd-man rush that ended in Adams’ goal.

That two-goal lead amounted to a mammoth margin in this tight-as-could-be series: Entering Wednesday, the teams were tied or separated by one goal 92 per cent of the time. Neither team had led by three goals in Games 1-6.

Yet this gap would grow.

Crosby assisted on Guerin’s goal only 28 seconds into the second period, and less than two minutes later, Letang put in Malkin’s pass to make it 4-0. That was it for Varlamov, who took over for Theodore after the Capitals lost Game 1 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers.

Ovechkin scored late in the second period, his 11th goal of the postseason. That made the reigning MVP the first NHL player since 1995 to total 14 points in a series.

That goal got the home fans excited, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma lowered the temperature by calling a timeout.

Bylsma seemingly has made all the right moves since he was promoted from Pittsburgh’s top minor league affiliate to replace the fired Michel Therrien on Feb. 15.

At the time, the Penguins were 10th in the conference — not good enough to make the playoffs.

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